Ethan Hayter is a rider still in search of his limits, and he came no closer to reaching them at the Critérium du Dauphiné.
The 23-year-old Ineos Grenadiers rider gave Wout van Aert a run for his money in the sprints and placed an impressive third in the mid-race time trial, but we already knew he had those talents. What we didn’t know was the he can climb mountains.
On Saturday, Hayter, who has never ridden at altitude, held firm over the Col du Galibier and Col de la Croix de Fer, two beasts of the Alps that rise over 2000 metres, only dropping when the pace picked up on the steep final climb to Vaujany. He crossed the line in 20th place, losing the white jersey but doing better than anyone expected.
He suffered a little more on Sunday’s hors-catégorie summit finish at the Plateau de Solaison, struggling with the heat, but still managed 25th place to seal 15th place on the final classification.
“I’d say it was a bit of a surprise - for myself and the team. A nice surprise, though,” Hayter told Cyclingnews on the Plateau de Solaison.
“It was a bit of an unknown for me. With my weight, along with the power I have in the TT, I should climb well, but I’ve not done any altitude at all. It went pretty well. It’s a good sign going forward.”
Ineos Grenadiers sport director Gabriel Rash backed that up.
“I definitely didn’t expect him to get that far,” he said. “But that just shows the talent he has.”
Hayter has long been considered one of the next big British talents. A product of British Cycling’s academy programme, he has track medals to his name – gold at Worlds, silver the Olympics – and turned professional on the road with Ineos Grenadiers in 2020.
He has repeatedly showcased his speed on punchy finishes, winning nine races in 2021 and four so far this year. He has an obvious natural talent against the clock, while he has also featured in the Classics, although he hasn’t had quite such an instant impact on the Belgian cobbles.
In short, Hayter is a versatile rider, and when you add climbing into the mix, thoughts turn to how far he could go. The path from the track to Tour de France glory has already been paved by Bradley Wiggins and Geraint Thomas, and it’s not far-fetched to imagine Hayter progressing the same way.
In fact, stage racing and even Grand Tour racing is something he’s already thinking about – a hazy prospect that will have perhaps started to crystallise at the Dauphiné.
“I definitely have options. You don’t really know until you get there. Hopefully I keep improving on everything,” Hayter said, before joking:” And start beating Van Aert.”
Rasch added: "For sure he’s thinking about [Grand Tours]. For now winning stages in stage races is his main target but we just want to see how far he can get.
“He can evolve into any type of rider, really. He’s still learning, still developing, and it’s been good for him to have that experience of winning smaller races. Now it’s been nice to see him here with both his sprints and fighting in the peloton and in the high mountains.”
Whatever the long-term outcome, in the immediate future Hayter may well be finding himself riding some more high mountains. He hasn’t yet ridden a Grand Tour but that is almost certain to change this year.
Hayter is on the Ineos longlist for the Tour de France and may just have ridden himself into the squad. If not, the Vuelta a España looks likely, with the belief that a three-week race will make him a stronger rider.
“I don’t know about the Tour. If I don’t do the Tour then hopefully I’ll do the Vuelta. There’ll be some great opportunities there as well. It won’t be a big problem for me if I don’t do the Tour,” Hayter said.
“It’s my third year as a pro and I’ve not done a Grand Tour, for a number of reasons, so It would be a nice step in my progression.”
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